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On World Press Freedom Day, Peru should decriminalise defamation, not criminalise its journalists

Wednesday 27 April 2016 - 5:32pm

Update - 05 May 2016

On 3 May 2016, World Press Freedom Day, a court in Peru found Caretas journalist Rafael León Rodríguez (also known as Rafo Leon) guilty of defamation.

Rafael León Rodríguez was given a one year suspended sentence and ordered to pay $1,800 in damages to the plaintiff, former El Comercio editor Martha Meier. The suspended sentence is subject to Rodríguez’s completion of one year of “good behaviour,” requiring him to report regularly to the authorities and to request permission before leaving the country.

‘The criminal conviction of journalist and author Rafael León Rodríguez underscores the dangerous way in which criminal defamation laws can be used to silence writers and journalists. Restoration of reputation should be dealt with through the civil courts, leaving journalists free from the fear of going to jail for their work. Our world is diminished when writers have to choose between self-censorship and their legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression. PEN International calls on Peruvian authorities to overturn Rafael León Rodríguez's conviction immediately.’ - Jennifer Clement, PEN International president.

27 April 2016 - On 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, rather than celebrating, Peruvian journalist and author Rafael León Rodríguez (known as Rafo León) will be heading to court, in all probability to be criminally convicted of defaming another journalist in an opinion piece. If so, León could face up to three years in prison and be ordered to pay damages of up to 5m sols (US$1.53 m).

PEN International believes convicting León of criminal defamation for an opinion piece on a matter of public interest would be a violation of his right to freedom of expression and opinion protected under national and international law. PEN urges the Peruvian authorities to absolve him and to remove defamation from the criminal code and make it a civil offence.

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Please send Appeals:

  • Urging the Peruvian judiciary not to convict journalist and author Rafo León of criminal defamation for an opinion piece on a matter of public interest, which PEN believes would be a violation of his right to freedom of expression and opinion protected under national and international law;
  • Calling on them to review the convictions and sentences of all other writers and journalists convicted of criminal defamation with a view to overturning them;
  • Reminding the Peruvian Congress of its pledge to remove defamation from the criminal code and to make it a civil offence and urging them to fulfil this pledge as a matter of urgency.


Víctor Ticona PostigoPresident of the Judiciary (Presidente del Poder Judicial)Email: vticona@pj.gob.peFax: +51 1 4283690Telephone: +51 1 428 3690
Twitter: @Poder_Judicial_
Ana María Aranda RodríguezHead of the Judicial Control Office of the Judiciary(Jefa de la Oficina de Control de la Magistratura del Poder Judicial)Email:  Telephone: +51 1 410 1010Luis Carlos Antonio Iberico NuñezPresident of the Peruvian Congress(Presidente del Congreso de la República)Email: liberico@congreso.gob.peTelephone: +51 1 311 7777Twitter: @congresoperu

Suggested tweet: 

#Peru: Halt trial of writer Rafo León, make defamation civil offence @congresoperu #WPFD2016

It is recommended that you send a copy of your appeals to the Peruvian Ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo) Eduardo Vega Luna at and via your nearest diplomatic representative for Peru.

**Please contact the PEN office in London if sending appeals after 26 May 2016** Please keep us informed of any action you take in regard to Rafo León’s case, including any responses you receive from the authorities.


PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Rafo León in Peru
  • Share information about Rafo León and your campaigning activities via social media


Messages of solidarity can be sent to Rafo León via Tamsin Mitchell


Peruvian journalist and author Rafael León Rodríguez (known as Rafo León) (b. 1950) is known for his columns for the Lima-based weekly newsmagazine Caretas, his travel accounts and short stories. He has been summoned for sentencing on 3 May 2016 – UNESCO World Press Freedom Day – in a criminal defamation case brought against him in 2014 by Martha Meier Miró Quesada, then general editor and columnist for El Comercio, one of the country’s leading newspapers.

If convicted, as his lawyer Roberto Pereira expects, León could face up to three years in prison, under Article 132 of the Peruvian Penal Code, and be ordered to pay civil damages of up to 5m sols (US$1.53 m).

The lawsuit stems from an opinion piece León published in his regular column in Caretas in June 2014 in response to an earlier column by Meier in El Comercio criticising the then Mayor of Lima, Susana Villarán de la Puente. In his satirical piece, León says Meier provides no solid arguments for her criticisms, undermines her credentials as an environmental journalist and questions her suitability to continue as editor of El Comercio.

Claiming that she had been insulted and humiliated by his ‘misogynistic’ column, Meier sued León for defamation in August 2014; no charges were brought against Caretas. León contested that his column used irony and rhetoric to comment on a matter of public interest but was in no way intended to be insulting and, as an opinion piece, cannot be subjected to a test of truth. León has also stated that Meier’s column was the latest in a series of often sloppy and unsubstantiated articles in El Comercio denigrating the former mayor.

Meier, who is part of the Miró Quesada family that owns El Comercio, was reportedly fired by the newspaper in 2015. Her dismissal was due to a different controversial column but during the trial she reportedly alleged that León’s column was a contributing factor.

On 23 March 2016, León was summoned to appear in court on 3 May for the ruling to be read – more than nine months after the trial ended in July 2015. León’s defence called for the sentence to be annulled and a new trial to be held, alleging unjustified delays and irregularities in due process. This request, supported by the Peruvian free expression organisation Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS), was denied by the court. If convicted, León intends to appeal.

In a Facebook post dated 12 April 2016, León says: ‘I – we journalists – need the support of everyone with democratic principles: make your opinion known on social media. I can’t explain how I feel except I have the sensation that I’m living through a Kafkaesque situation. If I’m convicted it would set a disastrous precedent for freedom of opinion and press in Peru. I leave it in your hands.

León has genuine grounds for concern: his sentencing follows hard on the heels of a fellow journalist’s conviction for criminal defamation.

On 18 April 2016, Fernando Valencia Osorio, former editor of the Lima-based daily newspaper Diario 16, was sentenced on appeal to a 20-month suspended prison sentence for defaming former Peruvian president Alan García. He was also ordered to pay 100,000 sols (US$30,595) in damages.

García, who served as president from 1985-90 and from 2006-11, filed a lawsuit in March 2013 accusing Valencia of damaging his reputation in a front-page story that year. In the article, current president Ollanta Humala reportedly criticised delays in completing infrastructure projects under previous administrations and alleged corruption. Although Diario 16 did not name García in the story it used a photo of him in the layout. Valencia was reportedly acquitted in the first instance but was convicted on appeal.

García has been investigated for corruption on numerous occasions since he left office in 2011 but has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing. Diario 16 reportedly has a reputation for criticising García, and the lawsuit was intended to intimidate the newspaper, Valencia’s lawyer, Carlos Rivera Paz, has said.

Valencia is believed to have appealed the conviction. His lawyers are also expected to submit his case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on the basis that the sentence violates his right to freedom of expression.

The right to freedom of expression and opinion is protected under the Peruvian Constitution (Article 2.4) and international law including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (Article 19), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19) and the American Convention on Human Rights (Article 13).

PEN International believes that no writer or journalist should be imprisoned or receive criminal penalties simply for the peaceful expression of their views or practice of their profession and calls for the repeal of criminal defamation laws in all countries.

The Special Rapporteurs for freedom of expression of the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have stated: “Criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression; all criminal defamation laws should be abolished and replaced, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws.”

Peru has committed to decriminalising defamation on several occasions but this has yet to happen. Most recently, earlier this year the President of the Peruvian Congress proposed removing defamation from the criminal code and making it a civil offence, following a meeting with IPYS and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

According to a recent CPJ study on criminal defamation laws in the Americas, in Peru: ‘In 2011, the permanent commission of Congress approved a bill to amend Article 132 of the Penal Code to remove the imprisonment penalty of the insult and defamation laws and replace it with fines and community service. Efforts to decriminalize defamation and insult laws have not seen any further material developments since then.’

For more information, please contact Tamsin Mitchell, Americas Programme Coordinator at PEN International, Tel. +44 (0)20 7405 0338; email: